The Man Who Laughs
Part 6 out of 13
On the whole, the two champions were really well matched; and,
notwithstanding the unfavourable weather, it was seen that the fight
would be a success.
The great giant, Phelem-ghe-Madone, had to bear the inconveniences of
his advantages; he moved heavily. His arms were massive as clubs; but
his chest was a mass. His little opponent ran, struck, sprang, gnashed
his teeth; redoubling vigour by quickness, from knowledge of the
On the one side was the primitive blow of the fist--savage,
uncultivated, in a state of ignorance; on the other side, the civilized
blow of the fist. Helmsgail fought as much with his nerves as with his
muscles, and with as much intention as force. Phelem-ghe-Madone was a
kind of sluggish mauler--somewhat mauled himself, to begin with. It was
art against nature. It was cultivated ferocity against barbarism.
It was clear that the barbarian would be beaten, but not very quickly.
Hence the interest.
A little man against a big one, and the chances are in favour of the
little one. The cat has the best of it with a dog. Goliaths are always
vanquished by Davids.
A hail of exclamations followed the combatants.
"Bravo, Helmsgail! Good! Well done, Highlander! Now, Phelem!"
And the friends of Helmsgail repeated their benevolent exhortation,--
"Bung up his peepers!"
Helmsgail did better. Rapidly bending down and back again, with the
undulation of a serpent, he struck Phelem-ghe-Madone in the sternum. The
"Foul blow!" cried Viscount Barnard.
Phelem-ghe-Madone sank down on the knee of his second, saying,--
"I am beginning to get warm."
Lord Desertum consulted the umpires, and said,--
"Five minutes before time is called."
Phelem-ghe-Madone was becoming weaker. Kilter wiped the blood from his
face and the sweat from his body with a flannel, and placed the neck of
a bottle to his mouth. They had come to the eleventh round. Phelem,
besides the scar on his forehead, had his breast disfigured by blows,
his belly swollen, and the fore part of the head scarified. Helmsgail
A kind of tumult arose amongst the gentlemen.
Lord Barnard repeated, "Foul blow."
"Bets void!" said the Laird of Lamyrbau.
"I claim my stake!" replied Sir Thomas Colpepper.
And the honourable member for the borough of Saint Ives, Sir Bartholomew
Gracedieu, added, "Give me back my five hundred guineas, and I will go.
Stop the fight."
Phelem arose, staggering like a drunken man, and said,--
"Let us go on fighting, on one condition--that I also shall have the
right to give one foul blow."
They cried "Agreed!" from all parts of the ring. Helmsgail shrugged his
shoulders. Five minutes elapsed, and they set to again.
The fighting, which was agony to Phelem, was play to Helmsgail. Such are
the triumphs of science.
The little man found means of putting the big one into chancery--that is
to say, Helmsgail suddenly took under his left arm, which was bent like
a steel crescent, the huge head of Phelem-ghe-Madone, and held it there
under his armpits, the neck bent and twisted, whilst Helmsgail's right
fist fell again and again like a hammer on a nail, only from below and
striking upwards, thus smashing his opponent's face at his ease. When
Phelem, released at length, lifted his head, he had no longer a face.
That which had been a nose, eyes, and a mouth now looked only like a
black sponge, soaked in blood. He spat, and on the ground lay four of
Then he fell. Kilter received him on his knee.
Helmsgail was hardly touched: he had some insignificant bruises and a
scratch on his collar bone.
No one was cold now. They laid sixteen and a quarter to one on
Harry Carleton cried out,--
"It is all over with Phelem-ghe-Madone. I will lay my peerage of
Bella-aqua, and my title of Lord Bellew, against the Archbishop of
Canterbury's old wig, on Helmsgail."
"Give me your muzzle," said Kilter to Phelem-ghe-Madone. And stuffing
the bloody flannel into the bottle, he washed him all over with gin. The
mouth reappeared, and he opened one eyelid. His temples seemed
"One round more, my friend," said Kilter; and he added, "for the honour
of the low town."
The Welsh and the Irish understand each other, still Phelem made no sign
of having any power of understanding left.
Phelem arose, supported by Kilter. It was the twenty-fifth round. From
the way in which this Cyclops, for he had but one eye, placed himself in
position, it was evident that this was the last round, for no one
doubted his defeat. He placed his guard below his chin, with the
awkwardness of a failing man.
Helmsgail, with a skin hardly sweating, cried out,--
"I'll back myself, a thousand to one."
Helmsgail, raising his arm, struck out; and, what was strange, both
fell. A ghastly chuckle was heard. It was Phelem-ghe-Madone's expression
of delight. While receiving the terrible blow given him by Helmsgail on
the skull, he had given him a foul blow on the navel.
Helmsgail, lying on his back, rattled in his throat.
The spectators looked at him as he lay on the ground, and said, "Paid
back!" All clapped their hands, even those who had lost.
Phelem-ghe-Madone had given foul blow for foul blow, and had only
asserted his right.
They carried Helmsgail off on a hand-barrow. The opinion was that he
would not recover.
Lord Robartes exclaimed, "I win twelve hundred guineas."
Phelem-ghe-Madone was evidently maimed for life.
As she left, Josiana took the arm of Lord David, an act which was
tolerated amongst people "engaged." She said to him,--
"It is very fine, but--"
"I thought it would have driven away my spleen. It has not."
Lord David stopped, looked at Josiana, shut his mouth, and inflated his
cheeks, whilst he nodded his head, which signified attention, and said
to the duchess,--
"For spleen there is but one remedy."
"What is it?"
The duchess asked,--
"And who is Gwynplaine?"
BOOK THE SECOND.
_GWYNPLAINE AND DEA._
WHEREIN WE SEE THE FACE OF HIM OF WHOM WE HAVE HITHERTO SEEN ONLY THE
Nature had been prodigal of her kindness to Gwynplaine. She had bestowed
on him a mouth opening to his ears, ears folding over to his eyes, a
shapeless nose to support the spectacles of the grimace maker, and a
face that no one could look upon without laughing.
We have just said that nature had loaded Gwynplaine with her gifts. But
was it nature? Had she not been assisted?
Two slits for eyes, a hiatus for a mouth, a snub protuberance with two
holes for nostrils, a flattened face, all having for the result an
appearance of laughter; it is certain that nature never produces such
But is laughter a synonym of joy?
If, in the presence of this mountebank--for he was one--the first
impression of gaiety wore off, and the man were observed with attention,
traces of art were to be recognized. Such a face could never have been
created by chance; it must have resulted from intention. Such perfect
completeness is not in nature. Man can do nothing to create beauty, but
everything to produce ugliness. A Hottentot profile cannot be changed
into a Roman outline, but out of a Grecian nose you may make a
Calmuck's. It only requires to obliterate the root of the nose and to
flatten the nostrils. The dog Latin of the Middle Ages had a reason for
its creation of the verb _denasare_. Had Gwynplaine when a child been
so worthy of attention that his face had been subjected to
transmutation? Why not? Needed there a greater motive than the
speculation of his future exhibition? According to all appearance,
industrious manipulators of children had worked upon his face. It seemed
evident that a mysterious and probably occult science, which was to
surgery what alchemy was to chemistry, had chiselled his flesh,
evidently at a very tender age, and manufactured his countenance with
premeditation. That science, clever with the knife, skilled in obtusions
and ligatures, had enlarged the mouth, cut away the lips, laid bare the
gums, distended the ears, cut the cartilages, displaced the eyelids and
the cheeks, enlarged the zygomatic muscle, pressed the scars and
cicatrices to a level, turned back the skin over the lesions whilst the
face was thus stretched, from all which resulted that powerful and
profound piece of sculpture, the mask, Gwynplaine.
Man is not born thus.
However it may have been, the manipulation of Gwynplaine had succeeded
admirably. Gwynplaine was a gift of Providence to dispel the sadness of
Of what providence? Is there a providence of demons as well as of God?
We put the question without answering it.
Gwynplaine was a mountebank. He showed himself on the platform. No such
effect had ever before been produced. Hypochondriacs were cured by the
sight of him alone. He was avoided by folks in mourning, because they
were compelled to laugh when they saw him, without regard to their
decent gravity. One day the executioner came, and Gwynplaine made him
laugh. Every one who saw Gwynplaine held his sides; he spoke, and they
rolled on the ground. He was removed from sadness as is pole from pole.
Spleen at the one; Gwynplaine at the other.
Thus he rose rapidly in the fair ground and at the cross roads to the
very satisfactory renown of a horrible man.
It was Gwynplaine's laugh which created the laughter of others, yet he
did not laugh himself. His face laughed; his thoughts did not. The
extraordinary face which chance or a special and weird industry had
fashioned for him, laughed alone. Gwynplaine had nothing to do with it.
The outside did not depend on the interior. The laugh which he had not
placed, himself, on his brow, on his eyelids, on his mouth, he could
not remove. It had been stamped for ever on his face. It was automatic,
and the more irresistible because it seemed petrified. No one could
escape from this rictus. Two convulsions of the face are infectious;
laughing and yawning. By virtue of the mysterious operation to which
Gwynplaine had probably been subjected in his infancy, every part of his
face contributed to that rictus; his whole physiognomy led to that
result, as a wheel centres in the nave. All his emotions, whatever they
might have been, augmented his strange face of joy, or to speak more
correctly, aggravated it. Any astonishment which might seize him, any
suffering which he might feel, any anger which might take possession of
him, any pity which might move him, would only increase this hilarity of
his muscles. If he wept, he laughed; and whatever Gwynplaine was,
whatever he wished to be, whatever he thought, the moment that he raised
his head, the crowd, if crowd there was, had before them one
impersonation: an overwhelming burst of laughter.
It was like a head of Medusa, but Medusa hilarious. All feeling or
thought in the mind of the spectator was suddenly put to flight by the
unexpected apparition, and laughter was inevitable. Antique art formerly
placed on the outsides of the Greek theatre a joyous brazen face, called
comedy. It laughed and occasioned laughter, but remained pensive. All
parody which borders on folly, all irony which borders on wisdom, were
condensed and amalgamated in that face. The burden of care, of
disillusion, anxiety, and grief were expressed in its impassive
countenance, and resulted in a lugubrious sum of mirth. One corner of
the mouth was raised, in mockery of the human race; the other side, in
blasphemy of the gods. Men confronted that model of the ideal sarcasm
and exemplification of the irony which each one possesses within him;
and the crowd, continually renewed round its fixed laugh, died away with
delight before its sepulchral immobility of mirth.
One might almost have said that Gwynplaine was that dark, dead mask of
ancient comedy adjusted to the body of a living man. That infernal head
of implacable hilarity he supported on his neck. What a weight for the
shoulders of a man--an everlasting laugh!
An everlasting laugh!
Let us understand each other; we will explain. The Manichaeans believed
the absolute occasionally gives way, and that God Himself sometimes
abdicates for a time. So also of the will. We do not admit that it can
ever be utterly powerless. The whole of existence resembles a letter
modified in the postscript. For Gwynplaine the postscript was this: by
the force of his will, and by concentrating all his attention, and on
condition that no emotion should come to distract and turn away the
fixedness of his effort, he could manage to suspend the everlasting
rictus of his face, and to throw over it a kind of tragic veil, and then
the spectator laughed no longer; he shuddered.
This exertion Gwynplaine scarcely ever made. It was a terrible effort,
and an insupportable tension. Moreover, it happened that on the
slightest distraction, or the slightest emotion, the laugh, driven back
for a moment, returned like a tide with an impulse which was
irresistible in proportion to the force of the adverse emotion.
With this exception, Gwynplaine's laugh was everlasting.
On seeing Gwynplaine, all laughed. When they had laughed they turned
away their heads. Women especially shrank from him with horror. The man
was frightful. The joyous convulsion of laughter was as a tribute paid;
they submitted to it gladly, but almost mechanically. Besides, when once
the novelty of the laugh had passed over, Gwynplaine was intolerable for
a woman to see, and impossible to contemplate. But he was tall, well
made, and agile, and no way deformed, excepting in his face.
This led to the presumption that Gwynplaine was rather a creation of art
than a work of nature. Gwynplaine, beautiful in figure, had probably
been beautiful in face. At his birth he had no doubt resembled other
infants. They had left the body intact, and retouched only the face.
Gwynplaine had been made to order--at least, that was probable. They had
left him his teeth; teeth are necessary to a laugh. The death's head
retains them. The operation performed on him must have been frightful.
That he had no remembrance of it was no proof that it had not taken
place. Surgical sculpture of the kind could never have succeeded except
on a very young child, and consequently on one having little
consciousness of what happened to him, and who might easily take a wound
for a sickness. Besides, we must remember that they had in those times
means of putting patients to sleep, and of suppressing all suffering;
only then it was called magic, while now it is called anaesthesia.
Besides this face, those who had brought him up had given him the
resources of a gymnast and an athlete. His articulations usefully
displaced and fashioned to bending the wrong way, had received the
education of a clown, and could, like the hinges of a door, move
backwards and forwards. In appropriating him to the profession of
mountebank nothing had been neglected. His hair had been dyed with ochre
once for all; a secret which has been rediscovered at the present day.
Pretty women use it, and that which was formerly considered ugly is now
considered an embellishment. Gwynplaine had yellow hair. His hair having
probably been dyed with some corrosive preparation, had left it woolly
and rough to the touch. Its yellow bristles, rather a mane than a head
of hair, covered and concealed a lofty brow, evidently made to contain
thought. The operation, whatever it had been, which had deprived his
features of harmony, and put all their flesh into disorder, had had no
effect on the bony structure of his head. The facial angle was powerful
and surprisingly grand. Behind his laugh there was a soul, dreaming, as
all our souls dream.
However, his laugh was to Gwynplaine quite a talent. He could do nothing
with it, so he turned it to account. By means of it he gained his
Gwynplaine, as you have doubtless already guessed, was the child
abandoned one winter evening on the coast of Portland, and received into
a poor caravan at Weymouth.
That boy was at this time a man. Fifteen years had elapsed. It was in
1705. Gwynplaine was in his twenty-fifth year.
Ursus had kept the two children with him. They were a group of
wanderers. Ursus and Homo had aged. Ursus had become quite bald. The
wolf was growing gray. The age of wolves is not ascertained like that of
dogs. According to Moliere, there are wolves which live to eighty,
amongst others the little koupara, and the rank wolf, the _Canis
nubilus_ of Say.
The little girl found on the dead woman was now a tall creature of
sixteen, with brown hair, slight, fragile, almost trembling from
delicacy, and almost inspiring fear lest she should break; admirably
beautiful, her eyes full of light, yet blind. That fatal winter night
which threw down the beggar woman and her infant in the snow had struck
a double blow. It had killed the mother and blinded the child. Gutta
serena had for ever paralysed the eyes of the girl, now become woman in
her turn. On her face, through which the light of day never passed, the
depressed corners of the mouth indicated the bitterness of the
privation. Her eyes, large and clear, had a strange quality:
extinguished for ever to her, to others they were brilliant. They were
mysterious torches lighting only the outside. They gave light but
possessed it not. These sightless eyes were resplendent. A captive of
shadow, she lighted up the dull place she inhabited. From the depth of
her incurable darkness, from behind the black wall called blindness, she
flung her rays. She saw not the sun without, but her soul was
perceptible from within.
In her dead look there was a celestial earnestness. She was the night,
and from the irremediable darkness with which she was amalgamated she
came out a star.
Ursus, with his mania for Latin names, had christened her Dea. He had
taken his wolf into consultation. He had said to him, "You represent
man, I represent the beasts. We are of the lower world; this little one
shall represent the world on high. Such feebleness is all-powerful. In
this manner the universe shall be complete in our hut in its three
orders--human, animal, and Divine." The wolf made no objection.
Therefore the foundling was called Dea.
As to Gwynplaine, Ursus had not had the trouble of inventing a name for
him. The morning of the day on which he had realized the disfigurement
of the little boy and the blindness of the infant he had asked him,
"Boy, what is your name?" and the boy had answered, "They call me
Gwynplaine." "Be Gwynplaine, then," said Ursus.
Dea assisted Gwynplaine in his performances. If human misery could be
summed up, it might have been summed up in Gwynplaine and Dea. Each
seemed born in a compartment of the sepulchre; Gwynplaine in the
horrible, Dea in the darkness. Their existences were shadowed by two
different kinds of darkness, taken from the two formidable sides of
night. Dea had that shadow in her, Gwynplaine had it on him. There was a
phantom in Dea, a spectre in Gwynplaine. Dea was sunk in the mournful,
Gwynplaine in something worse. There was for Gwynplaine, who could see,
a heartrending possibility that existed not for Dea, who was blind; he
could compare himself with other men. Now, in a situation such as that
of Gwynplaine, admitting that he should seek to examine it, to compare
himself with others was to understand himself no more. To have, like
Dea, empty sight from which the world is absent, is a supreme distress,
yet less than to be an enigma to oneself; to feel that something is
wanting here as well, and that something, oneself; to see the universe
and not to see oneself. Dea had a veil over her, the night; Gwynplaine a
mask, his face. Inexpressible fact, it was by his own flesh that
Gwynplaine was masked! What his visage had been, he knew not. His face
had vanished. They had affixed to him a false self. He had for a face, a
disappearance. His head lived, his face was dead. He never remembered to
have seen it. Mankind was for Gwynplaine, as for Dea, an exterior fact.
It was far-off. She was alone, he was alone. The isolation of Dea was
funereal, she saw nothing; that of Gwynplaine sinister, he saw all
things. For Dea creation never passed the bounds of touch and hearing;
reality was bounded, limited, short, immediately lost. Nothing was
infinite to her but darkness. For Gwynplaine to live was to have the
crowd for ever before him and outside him. Dea was the proscribed from
light, Gwynplaine the banned of life. They were beyond the pale of hope,
and had reached the depth of possible calamity; they had sunk into it,
both of them. An observer who had watched them would have felt his
reverie melt into immeasurable pity. What must they not have suffered!
The decree of misfortune weighed visibly on these human creatures, and
never had fate encompassed two beings who had done nothing to deserve
it, and more clearly turned destiny into torture, and life into hell.
They were in a Paradise.
They were in love.
Gwynplaine adored Dea. Dea idolized Gwynplaine.
"How beautiful you are!" she would say to him.
"OCULOS NON HABET, ET VIDET."
Only one woman on earth saw Gwynplaine. It was the blind girl. She had
learned what Gwynplaine had done for her, from Ursus, to whom he had
related his rough journey from Portland to Weymouth, and the many
sufferings which he had endured when deserted by the gang. She knew that
when an infant dying upon her dead mother, suckling a corpse, a being
scarcely bigger than herself had taken her up; that this being, exiled,
and, as it were, buried under the refusal of the universe to aid him,
had heard her cry; that all the world being deaf to him, he had not been
deaf to her; that the child, alone, weak, cast off, without
resting-place here below, dragging himself over the waste, exhausted by
fatigue, crushed, had accepted from the hands of night a burden, another
child: that he, who had nothing to expect in that obscure distribution
which we call fate, had charged himself with a destiny; that naked, in
anguish and distress, he had made himself a Providence; that when Heaven
had closed he had opened his heart; that, himself lost, he had saved;
that having neither roof-tree nor shelter, he had been an asylum; that
he had made himself mother and nurse; that he who was alone in the world
had responded to desertion by adoption; that lost in the darkness he had
given an example; that, as if not already sufficiently burdened, he had
added to his load another's misery; that in this world, which seemed to
contain nothing for him, he had found a duty; that where every one else
would have hesitated, he had advanced; that where every one else would
have drawn back, he consented; that he had put his hand into the jaws of
the grave and drawn out her--Dea. That, himself half naked, he had given
her his rags, because she was cold; that famished, he had thought of
giving her food and drink; that for one little creature, another little
creature had combated death; that he had fought it under every form;
under the form of winter and snow, under the form of solitude, under the
form of terror, under the form of cold, hunger, and thirst, under the
form of whirlwind, and that for her, Dea, this Titan of ten had given
battle to the immensity of night. She knew that as a child he had done
this, and that now as a man, he was strength to her weakness, riches to
her poverty, healing to her sickness, and sight to her blindness.
Through the mist of the unknown by which she felt herself encompassed,
she distinguished clearly his devotion, his abnegation, his courage.
Heroism in immaterial regions has an outline; she distinguished this
sublime outline. In the inexpressible abstraction in which thought lives
unlighted by the sun, Dea perceived this mysterious lineament of virtue.
In the surrounding of dark things put in motion, which was the only
impression made on her by reality; in the uneasy stagnation of a
creature, always passive, yet always on the watch for possible evil; in
the sensation of being ever defenceless, which is the life of the
blind--she felt Gwynplaine above her; Gwynplaine never cold, never
absent, never obscured; Gwynplaine sympathetic, helpful, and
sweet-tempered. Dea quivered with certainty and gratitude, her anxiety
changed into ecstasy, and with her shadowy eyes she contemplated on the
zenith from the depth of her abyss the rich light of his goodness. In
the ideal, kindness is the sun; and Gwynplaine dazzled Dea.
To the crowd, which has too many heads to have a thought, and too many
eyes to have a sight--to the crowd who, superficial themselves, judge
only of the surface, Gwynplaine was a clown, a merry-andrew, a
mountebank, a creature grotesque, a little more and a little less than a
beast. The crowd knew only the face.
For Dea, Gwynplaine was the saviour, who had gathered her into his arms
in the tomb, and borne her out of it; the consoler, who made life
tolerable; the liberator, whose hand, holding her own, guided her
through that labyrinth called blindness. Gwynplaine was her brother,
friend, guide, support; the personification of heavenly power; the
husband, winged and resplendent. Where the multitude saw the monster,
Dea recognized the archangel. It was that Dea, blind, perceived his
Ursus being a philosopher understood. He approved of the fascination of
Dea. He said, The blind see the invisible. He said, Conscience is
vision. Then, looking at Gwynplaine, he murmured, Semi-monster, but
Gwynplaine, on the other hand, was madly in love with Dea.
There is the invisible eye, the spirit, and the visible eye, the pupil.
He saw her with the visible eye. Dea was dazzled by the ideal;
Gwynplaine, by the real. Gwynplaine was not ugly; he was frightful. He
saw his contrast before him: in proportion as he was terrible, Dea was
sweet. He was horror; she was grace. Dea was his dream. She seemed a
vision scarcely embodied. There was in her whole person, in her Grecian
form, in her fine and supple figure, swaying like a reed; in her
shoulders, on which might have been invisible wings; in the modest
curves which indicated her sex, to the soul rather than to the senses;
in her fairness, which amounted almost to transparency; in the august
and reserved serenity of her look, divinely shut out from earth; in the
sacred innocence of her smile--she was almost an angel, and yet just a
Gwynplaine, we have said, compared himself and compared Dea.
His existence, such as it was, was the result of a double and unheard-of
choice. It was the point of intersection of two rays--one from below and
one from above--a black and a white ray. To the same crumb, perhaps
pecked at at once by the beaks of evil and good, one gave the bite, the
other the kiss. Gwynplaine was this crumb--an atom, wounded and
caressed. Gwynplaine was the product of fatality combined with
Providence. Misfortune had placed its finger on him; happiness as well.
Two extreme destinies composed his strange lot. He had on him an
anathema and a benediction. He was the elect, cursed. Who was he? He
knew not. When he looked at himself, he saw one he knew not; but this
unknown was a monster. Gwynplaine lived as it were beheaded, with a face
which did not belong to him. This face was frightful, so frightful that
it was absurd. It caused as much fear as laughter. It was a
hell-concocted absurdity. It was the shipwreck of a human face into the
mask of an animal. Never had been seen so total an eclipse of humanity
in a human face; never parody more complete; never had apparition more
frightful grinned in nightmare; never had everything repulsive to woman
been more hideously amalgamated in a man. The unfortunate heart, masked
and calumniated by the face, seemed for ever condemned to solitude under
it, as under a tombstone.
Yet no! Where unknown malice had done its worst, invisible goodness had
lent its aid. In the poor fallen one, suddenly raised up, by the side of
the repulsive, it had placed the attractive; on the barren shoal it had
set the loadstone; it had caused a soul to fly with swift wings towards
the deserted one; it had sent the dove to console the creature whom the
thunderbolt had overwhelmed, and had made beauty adore deformity. For
this to be possible it was necessary that beauty should not see the
disfigurement. For this good fortune, misfortune was required.
Providence had made Dea blind.
Gwynplaine vaguely felt himself the object of a redemption. Why had he
been persecuted? He knew not. Why redeemed? He knew not. All he knew was
that a halo had encircled his brand. When Gwynplaine had been old enough
to understand, Ursus had read and explained to him the text of Doctor
Conquest _de Denasatis_, and in another folio, Hugo Plagon, the passage,
_Naves habensmutilas_; but Ursus had prudently abstained from
"hypotheses," and had been reserved in his opinion of what it might
mean. Suppositions were possible. The probability of violence inflicted
on Gwynplaine when an infant was hinted at, but for Gwynplaine the
result was the only evidence. His destiny was to live under a stigma.
Why this stigma? There was no answer.
Silence and solitude were around Gwynplaine. All was uncertain in the
conjectures which could be fitted to the tragical reality; excepting the
terrible fact, nothing was certain. In his discouragement Dea intervened
a sort of celestial interposition between him and despair. He perceived,
melted and inspirited by the sweetness of the beautiful girl who turned
to him, that, horrible as he was, a beautified wonder affected his
monstrous visage. Having been fashioned to create dread, he was the
object of a miraculous exception, that it was admired and adored in the
ideal by the light; and, monster that he was, he felt himself the
contemplation of a star.
Gwynplaine and Dea were united, and these two suffering hearts adored
each other. One nest and two birds--that was their story. They had
begun to feel a universal law--to please, to seek, and to find each
Thus hatred had made a mistake. The persecutors of Gwynplaine, whoever
they might have been--the deadly enigma, from wherever it came--had
missed their aim. They had intended to drive him to desperation; they
had succeeded in driving him into enchantment. They had affianced him
beforehand to a healing wound. They had predestined him for consolation
by an infliction. The pincers of the executioner had softly
changed into the delicately-moulded hand of a girl. Gwynplaine was
horrible--artificially horrible--made horrible by the hand of man. They
had hoped to exile him for ever: first, from his family, if his family
existed, and then from humanity. When an infant, they had made him a
ruin; of this ruin Nature had repossessed herself, as she does of all
ruins. This solitude Nature had consoled, as she consoles all solitudes.
Nature comes to the succour of the deserted; where all is lacking, she
gives back her whole self. She flourishes and grows green amid ruins;
she has ivy for the stones and love for man.
Profound generosity of the shadows!
THE BLUE SKY THROUGH THE BLACK CLOUD.
Thus lived these unfortunate creatures together--Dea, relying;
Gwynplaine, accepted. These orphans were all in all to each other, the
feeble and the deformed. The widowed were betrothed. An inexpressible
thanksgiving arose out of their distress. They were grateful. To whom?
To the obscure immensity. Be grateful in your own hearts. That suffices.
Thanksgiving has wings, and flies to its right destination. Your prayer
knows its way better than you can.
How many men have believed that they prayed to Jupiter, when they prayed
to Jehovah! How many believers in amulets are listened to by the
Almighty! How many atheists there are who know not that, in the simple
fact of being good and sad, they pray to God!
Gwynplaine and Dea were grateful. Deformity is expulsion. Blindness is a
precipice. The expelled one had been adopted; the precipice was
Gwynplaine had seen a brilliant light descending on him, in an
arrangement of destiny which seemed to put, in the perspective of a
dream, a white cloud of beauty having the form of a woman, a radiant
vision in which there was a heart; and the phantom, almost a cloud and
yet a woman, clasped him; and the apparition embraced him; and the heart
desired him. Gwynplaine was no longer deformed. He was beloved. The rose
demanded the caterpillar in marriage, feeling that within the
caterpillar there was a divine butterfly. Gwynplaine the rejected was
chosen. To have one's desire is everything. Gwynplaine had his, Dea
The abjection of the disfigured man was exalted and dilated into
intoxication, into delight, into belief; and a hand was stretched out
towards the melancholy hesitation of the blind girl, to guide her in her
It was the penetration of two misfortunes into the ideal which absorbed
them. The rejected found a refuge in each other. Two blanks, combining,
filled each other up. They held together by what they lacked: in that in
which one was poor, the other was rich. The misfortune of the one made
the treasure of the other. Had Dea not been blind, would she have chosen
Gwynplaine? Had Gwynplaine not been disfigured, would he have preferred
Dea? She would probably have rejected the deformed, as he would have
passed by the infirm. What happiness for Dea that Gwynplaine was
hideous! What good fortune for Gwynplaine that Dea was blind! Apart from
their providential matching, they were impossible to each other. A
mighty want of each other was at the bottom of their loves, Gwynplaine
saved Dea. Dea saved Gwynplaine. Apposition of misery produced
adherence. It was the embrace of those swallowed in the abyss; none
closer, none more hopeless, none more exquisite.
Gwynplaine had a thought--"What should I be without her?" Dea had a
thought--"What should I be without him?" The exile of each made a
country for both. The two incurable fatalities, the stigmata of
Gwynplaine and the blindness of Dea, joined them together in
contentment. They sufficed to each other. They imagined nothing beyond
each other. To speak to one another was a delight, to approach was
beatitude; by force of reciprocal intuition they became united in the
same reverie, and thought the same thoughts. In Gwynplaine's tread Dea
believed that she heard the step of one deified. They tightened their
mutual grasp in a sort of sidereal _chiaroscuro_, full of perfumes, of
gleams, of music, of the luminous architecture of dreams. They belonged
to each other; they knew themselves to be for ever united in the same
joy and the same ecstasy; and nothing could be stranger than this
construction of an Eden by two of the damned.
They were inexpressibly happy. In their hell they had created heaven.
Such was thy power, O Love! Dea heard Gwynplaine's laugh; Gwynplaine saw
Dea's smile. Thus ideal felicity was found, the perfect joy of life was
realized, the mysterious problem of happiness was solved; and by whom?
By two outcasts.
For Gwynplaine, Dea was splendour. For Dea, Gwynplaine was presence.
Presence is that profound mystery which renders the invisible world
divine, and from which results that other mystery--confidence. In
religions this is the only thing which is irreducible; but this
irreducible thing suffices. The great motive power is not seen; it is
Gwynplaine was the religion of Dea. Sometimes, lost in her sense of love
towards him, she knelt, like a beautiful priestess before a gnome in a
pagoda, made happy by her adoration.
Imagine to yourself an abyss, and in its centre an oasis of light, and
in this oasis two creatures shut out of life, dazzling each other. No
purity could be compared to their loves. Dea was ignorant what a kiss
might be, though perhaps she desired it; because blindness, especially
in a woman, has its dreams, and though trembling at the approaches of
the unknown, does not fear them all. As to Gwynplaine, his sensitive
youth made him pensive. The more delirious he felt, the more timid he
became. He might have dared anything with this companion of his early
youth, with this creature as innocent of fault as of the light, with
this blind girl who saw but one thing--that she adored him! But he would
have thought it a theft to take what she might have given; so he
resigned himself with a melancholy satisfaction to love angelically, and
the conviction of his deformity resolved itself into a proud purity.
These happy creatures dwelt in the ideal. They were spouses in it at
distances as opposite as the spheres. They exchanged in its firmament
the deep effluvium which is in infinity attraction, and on earth the
sexes. Their kisses were the kisses of souls.
They had always lived a common life. They knew themselves only in each
other's society. The infancy of Dea had coincided with the youth of
Gwynplaine. They had grown up side by side. For a long time they had
slept in the same bed, for the hut was not a large bedchamber. They lay
on the chest, Ursus on the floor; that was the arrangement. One fine
day, whilst Dea was still very little, Gwynplaine felt himself grown up,
and it was in the youth that shame arose. He said to Ursus, "I will also
sleep on the floor." And at night he stretched himself, with the old
man, on the bear skin. Then Dea wept. She cried for her bed-fellow; but
Gwynplaine, become restless because he had begun to love, decided to
remain where he was. From that time he always slept by the side of Ursus
on the planks. In the summer, when the nights were fine, he slept
outside with Homo.
When thirteen, Dea had not yet become resigned to the arrangement. Often
in the evening she said, "Gwynplaine, come close to me; that will put me
to sleep." A man lying by her side was a necessity to her innocent
Nudity is to see that one is naked. She ignored nudity. It was the
ingenuousness of Arcadia or Otaheite. Dea untaught made Gwynplaine wild.
Sometimes it happened that Dea, when almost reaching youth, combed her
long hair as she sat on her bed--her chemise unfastened and falling off
revealed indications of a feminine outline, and a vague commencement of
Eve--and would call Gwynplaine. Gwynplaine blushed, lowered his eyes,
and knew not what to do in presence of this innocent creature.
Stammering, he turned his head, feared, and fled. The Daphnis of
darkness took flight before the Chloe of shadow.
Such was the idyll blooming in a tragedy.
Ursus said to them,--"Old brutes, adore each other!"
URSUS AS TUTOR, AND URSUS AS GUARDIAN.
"Some of these days I will play them a nasty trick. I will marry them."
Ursus taught Gwynplaine the theory of love. He said to him,--
"Do you know how the Almighty lights the fire called love? He places
the woman underneath, the devil between, and the man at the top. A
match--that is to say, a look--and behold, it is all on fire."
"A look is unnecessary," answered Gwynplaine, thinking of Dea.
And Ursus replied,--
"Booby! Do souls require mortal eyes to see each other?"
Ursus was a good fellow at times. Gwynplaine, sometimes madly in love
with Dea, became melancholy, and made use of the presence of Ursus as a
guard on himself. One day Ursus said to him,--
"Bah! do not put yourself out. When in love, the cock shows himself."
"But the eagle conceals himself," replied Gwynplaine.
At other times Ursus would say to himself, apart,--
"It is wise to put spokes in the wheels of the Cytherean car. They love
each other too much. This may have its disadvantages. Let us avoid a
fire. Let us moderate these hearts."
Then Ursus had recourse to warnings of this nature, speaking to
Gwynplaine when Dea slept, and to Dea when Gwynplaine's back was
"Dea, you must not be so fond of Gwynplaine. To live in the life of
another is perilous. Egoism is a good root of happiness. Men escape from
women. And then Gwynplaine might end by becoming infatuated with you.
His success is so great! You have no idea how great his success is!"
"Gwynplaine, disproportions are no good. So much ugliness on one side
and so much beauty on another ought to compel reflection. Temper your
ardour, my boy. Do not become too enthusiastic about Dea. Do you
seriously consider that you are made for her? Just think of your
deformity and her perfection! See the distance between her and yourself.
She has everything, this Dea. What a white skin! What hair! Lips like
strawberries! And her foot! her hand! Those shoulders, with their
exquisite curve! Her expression is sublime. She walks diffusing light;
and in speaking, the grave tone of her voice is charming. But for all
this, to think that she is a woman! She would not be such a fool as to
be an angel. She is absolute beauty. Repeat all this to yourself, to
calm your ardour."
These speeches redoubled the love of Gwynplaine and Dea, and Ursus was
astonished at his want of success, just as one who should say, "It is
singular that with all the oil I throw on fire I cannot extinguish it."
Did he, then, desire to extinguish their love, or to cool it even?
Certainly not. He would have been well punished had he succeeded. At the
bottom of his heart this love, which was flame for them and warmth for
him, was his delight.
But it is natural to grate a little against that which charms us; men
call it wisdom.
Ursus had been, in his relations with Gwynplaine and Dea, almost a
father and a mother. Grumbling all the while, he had brought them up;
grumbling all the while, he had nourished them. His adoption of them had
made the hut roll more heavily, and he had been oftener compelled to
harness himself by Homo's side to help to draw it.
We may observe, however, that after the first few years, when Gwynplaine
was nearly grown up, and Ursus had grown quite old, Gwynplaine had taken
his turn, and drawn Ursus.
Ursus, seeing that Gwynplaine was becoming a man, had cast the horoscope
of his deformity. "_It has made your fortune!_" he had told him.
This family of an old man and two children, with a wolf, had become, as
they wandered, a group more and more intimately united. There errant
life had not hindered education. "To wander is to grow," Ursus said.
Gwynplaine was evidently made to exhibit at fairs. Ursus had cultivated
in him feats of dexterity, and had encrusted him as much as possible
with all he himself possessed of science and wisdom.
Ursus, contemplating the perplexing mask of Gwynplaine's face, often
"He has begun well." It was for this reason that he had perfected him
with every ornament of philosophy and wisdom.
He repeated constantly to Gwynplaine,--
"Be a philosopher. To be wise is to be invulnerable. You see what I am,
I have never shed a tears. This is the result of my wisdom. Do you think
that occasion for tears has been wanting, had I felt disposed to weep?"
Ursus, in one of his monologues in the hearing of the wolf, said,--
"I have taught Gwynplaine everything, Latin included. I have taught Dea
nothing, music included."
He had taught them both to sing. He had himself a pretty talent for
playing on the oaten reed, a little flute of that period. He played on
it agreeably, as also on the _chiffonie_, a sort of beggar's
hurdy-gurdy, mentioned in the Chronicle of Bertrand Duguesclin as the
"truant instrument," which started the symphony. These instruments
attracted the crowd. Ursus would show them the chiffonie, and say, "It
is called organistrum in Latin."
He had taught Dea and Gwynplaine to sing, according to the method of
Orpheus and of Egide Binchois. Frequently he interrupted the lessons
with cries of enthusiasm, such as "Orpheus, musician of Greece!
Binchois, musician of Picardy!"
These branches of careful culture did not occupy the children so as to
prevent their adoring each other. They had mingled their hearts together
as they grew up, as two saplings planted near mingle their branches as
they become trees.
"No matter," said Ursus. "I will marry them."
Then he grumbled to himself,--
"They are quite tiresome with their love."
The past--their little past, at least--had no existence for Dea and
Gwynplaine. They knew only what Ursus had told them of it. They called
Ursus father. The only remembrance which Gwynplaine had of his infancy
was as of a passage of demons over his cradle. He had an impression of
having been trodden in the darkness under deformed feet. Was this
intentional or not? He was ignorant on this point. That which he
remembered clearly and to the slightest detail were his tragical
adventures when deserted at Portland. The finding of Dea made that
dismal night a radiant date for him.
The memory of Dea, even more than that of Gwynplaine, was lost in
clouds. In so young a child all remembrance melts away. She recollected
her mother as something cold. Had she ever seen the sun? Perhaps so. She
made efforts to pierce into the blank which was her past life.
"The sun!--what was it?"
She had some vague memory of a thing luminous and warm, of which
Gwynplaine had taken the place.
They spoke to each other in low tones. It is certain that cooing is the
most important thing in the world. Dea often said to Gwynplaine,--
"Light means that you are speaking."
Once, no longer containing himself, as he saw through a muslin sleeve
the arm of Dea, Gwynplaine brushed its transparency with his lips--ideal
kiss of a deformed mouth! Dea felt a deep delight; she blushed like a
rose. This kiss from a monster made Aurora gleam on that beautiful brow
full of night. However, Gwynplaine sighed with a kind of terror, and as
the neckerchief of Dea gaped, he could not refrain from looking at the
whiteness visible through that glimpse of Paradise.
Dea pulled up her sleeve, and stretching towards Gwynplaine her naked
The next day the game was renewed, with variations.
It was a heavenly subsidence into that sweet abyss called love.
At such things heaven smiles philosophically.
BLINDNESS GIVES LESSONS IN CLAIRVOYANCE.
At times Gwynplaine reproached himself. He made his happiness a case of
conscience. He fancied that to allow a woman who could not see him to
love him was to deceive her.
What would she have said could she have suddenly obtained her sight? How
she would have felt repulsed by what had previously attracted her! How
she would have recoiled from her frightful loadstone! What a cry! What
covering of her face! What a flight! A bitter scruple harassed him. He
told himself that such a monster as he had no right to love. He was a
hydra idolized by a star. It was his duty to enlighten the blind star.
One day he said to Dea,--
"You know that I am very ugly."
"I know that you are sublime," she answered.
"When you hear all the world laugh, they laugh at me because I am
"I love you," said Dea.
After a silence, she added,--
"I was in death; you brought me to life. When you are here, heaven is by
my side. Give me your hand, that I may touch heaven."
Their hands met and grasped each other. They spoke no more, but were
silent in the plenitude of love.
Ursus, who was crabbed, had overheard this. The next day, when the three
were together, he said,--
"For that matter, Dea is ugly also."
The word produced no effect. Dea and Gwynplaine were not listening.
Absorbed in each other, they rarely heeded such exclamations of Ursus.
Their depth was a dead loss.
This time, however, the precaution of Ursus, "Dea is also ugly,"
indicated in this learned man a certain knowledge of women. It is
certain that Gwynplaine, in his loyalty, had been guilty of an
imprudence. To have said, _I am ugly_, to any other blind girl than Dea
might have been dangerous. To be blind, and in love, is to be twofold
blind. In such a situation dreams are dreamt. Illusion is the food of
dreams. Take illusion from love, and you take from it its aliment. It is
compounded of every enthusiasm, of both physical and moral admiration.
Moreover, you should never tell a woman a word difficult to understand.
She will dream about it, and she often dreams falsely. An enigma in a
reverie spoils it. The shock caused by the fall of a careless word
displaces that against which it strikes. At times it happens, without
our knowing why, that because we have received the obscure blow of a
chance word the heart empties itself insensibly of love. He who loves
perceives a decline in his happiness. Nothing is to be feared more than
this slow exudation from the fissure in the vase.
Happily, Dea was not formed of such clay. The stuff of which other women
are made had not been used in her construction. She had a rare nature.
The frame, but not the heart, was fragile. A divine perseverance in love
was in the heart of her being.
The whole disturbance which the word used by Gwynplaine had produced in
her ended in her saying one day,--
"To be ugly--what is it? It is to do wrong. Gwynplaine only does good.
He is handsome."
Then, under the form of interrogation so familiar to children and to
the blind, she resumed,--
"To see--what is it that you call seeing? For my own part, I cannot see;
I know. It seems that _to see_ means to hide."
"What do you mean?" said Gwynplaine.
"To see is a thing which conceals the true."
"No," said Gwynplaine.
"But yes," replied Dea, "since you say you are ugly."
She reflected a moment, and then said, "Story-teller!"
Gwynplaine felt the joy of having confessed and of not being believed.
Both his conscience and his love were consoled.
Thus they had reached, Dea sixteen, Gwynplaine nearly twenty-five. They
were not, as it would now be expressed, "more advanced" than the first
day. Less even; for it may be remembered that on their wedding night she
was nine months and he ten years old. A sort of holy childhood had
continued in their love. Thus it sometimes happens that the belated
nightingale prolongs her nocturnal song till dawn.
Their caresses went no further than pressing hands, or lips brushing a
naked arm. Soft, half-articulate whispers sufficed them.
Twenty-four and sixteen! So it happened that Ursus, who did not lose
sight of the ill turn he intended to do them, said,--
"One of these days you must choose a religion."
"Wherefore?" inquired Gwynplaine.
"That you may marry."
"That is already done," said Dea.
Dea did not understand that they could be more man and wife than they
At bottom, this chimerical and virginal content, this innocent union of
souls, this celibacy taken for marriage, was not displeasing to Ursus.
Besides, were they not already married? If the indissoluble existed
anywhere, was it not in their union? Gwynplaine and Dea! They were
creatures worthy of the love they mutually felt, flung by misfortune
into each other's arms. And as if they were not enough in this first
link, love had survened on misfortune, and had attached them, united
and bound them together. What power could ever break that iron chain,
bound with knots of flowers? They were indeed bound together.
Dea had beauty, Gwynplaine had sight. Each brought a dowry. They were
more than coupled--they were paired: separated solely by the sacred
interposition of innocence.
Though dream as Gwynplaine would, however, and absorb all meaner
passions as he could in the contemplation of Dea and before the tribunal
of conscience, he was a man. Fatal laws are not to be eluded. He
underwent, like everything else in nature, the obscure fermentations
willed by the Creator. At times, therefore, he looked at the women who
were in the crowd, but he immediately felt that the look was a sin, and
hastened to retire, repentant, into his own soul.
Let us add that he met with no encouragement. On the face of every woman
who looked upon him he saw aversion antipathy, repugnance, and
rejection. It was clear that no other than Dea was possible for him.
This aided his repentance.
NOT ONLY HAPPINESS, BUT PROSPERITY.
What true things are told in stories! The burnt scar of the invisible
fiend who has touched you is remorse for a wicked thought. In Gwynplaine
evil thoughts never ripened, and he had therefore no remorse. Sometimes
he felt regret.
Vague mists of conscience.
What was this?
Their happiness was complete--so complete that they were no longer even
From 1680 to 1704 a great change had taken place.
It happened sometimes, in the year 1704, that as night fell on some
little village on the coast, a great, heavy van, drawn by a pair of
stout horses, made its entry. It was like the shell of a vessel
reversed--the keel for a roof, the deck for a floor, placed on four
wheels. The wheels were all of the same size, and high as wagon wheels.
Wheels, pole, and van were all painted green, with a rhythmical
gradation of shades, which ranged from bottle green for the wheels to
apple green for the roofing. This green colour had succeeded in drawing
attention to the carriage, which was known in all the fair grounds as
The Green Box. The Green Box had but two windows, one at each extremity,
and at the back a door with steps to let down. On the roof, from a tube
painted green like the rest, smoke arose. This moving house was always
varnished and washed afresh. In front, on a ledge fastened to the van,
with the window for a door, behind the horses and by the side of an old
man who held the reins and directed the team, two gipsy women, dressed
as goddesses, sounded their trumpets. The astonishment with which the
villagers regarded this machine was overwhelming.
This was the old establishment of Ursus, its proportions augmented by
success, and improved from a wretched booth into a theatre. A kind of
animal, between dog and wolf, was chained under the van. This was Homo.
The old coachman who drove the horses was the philosopher himself.
Whence came this improvement from the miserable hut to the Olympic
From this--Gwynplaine had become famous.
It was with a correct scent of what would succeed amongst men that Ursus
had said to Gwynplaine,--
"They made your fortune."
Ursus, it may be remembered, had made Gwynplaine his pupil. Unknown
people had worked upon his face; he, on the other hand, had worked on
his mind, and behind this well-executed mask he had placed all that he
could of thought. So soon as the growth of the child had rendered him
fitted for it, he had brought him out on the stage--that is, he had
produced him in front of the van.
The effect of his appearance had been surprising. The passers-by were
immediately struck with wonder. Never had anything been seen to be
compared to this extraordinary mimic of laughter. They were ignorant how
the miracle of infectious hilarity had been obtained. Some believed it
to be natural, others declared it to be artificial, and as conjecture
was added to reality, everywhere, at every cross-road on the journey, in
all the grounds of fairs and fetes, the crowd ran after Gwynplaine.
Thanks to this great attraction, there had come into the poor purse of
the wandering group, first a rain of farthings, then of heavy pennies,
and finally of shillings. The curiosity of one place exhausted, they
passed on to another. Rolling does not enrich a stone but it enriches a
caravan; and year by year, from city to city, with the increased growth
of Gwynplaine's person and of his ugliness, the fortune predicted by
Ursus had come.
"What a good turn they did you there, my boy!" said Ursus.
This "fortune" had allowed Ursus, who was the administrator of
Gwynplaine's success, to have the chariot of his dreams
constructed--that is to say, a caravan large enough to carry a theatre,
and to sow science and art in the highways. Moreover, Ursus had been
able to add to the group composed of himself, Homo, Gwynplaine, and Dea,
two horses and two women, who were the goddesses of the troupe, as we
have just said, and its servants. A mythological frontispiece was, in
those days, of service to a caravan of mountebanks.
"We are a wandering temple," said Ursus.
These two gipsies, picked up by the philosopher from amongst the
vagabondage of cities and suburbs, were ugly and young, and were called,
by order of Ursus, the one Phoebe, and the other Venus.
For these read Fibi and Vinos, that we may conform to English
Phoebe cooked; Venus scrubbed the temple.
Moreover, on days of performance they dressed Dea.
Mountebanks have their public life as well as princes, and on these
occasions Dea was arrayed, like Fibi and Vinos, in a Florentine
petticoat of flowered stuff, and a woman's jacket without sleeves,
leaving the arms bare. Ursus and Gwynplaine wore men's jackets, and,
like sailors on board a man-of-war, great loose trousers. Gwynplaine
had, besides, for his work and for his feats of strength, round his neck
and over his shoulders, an esclavine of leather. He took charge of the
horses. Ursus and Homo took charge of each other.
Dea, being used to the Green Box, came and went in the interior of the
wheeled house, with almost as much ease and certainty as those who saw.
The eye which could penetrate within this structure and its internal
arrangements might have perceived in a corner, fastened to the planks,
and immovable on its four wheels, the old hut of Ursus, placed on
half-pay, allowed to rust, and from thenceforth dispensed the labour of
rolling as Ursus was relieved from the labour of drawing it.
This hut, in a corner at the back, to the right of the door, served as
bedchamber and dressing-room to Ursus and Gwynplaine. It now contained
two beds. In the opposite corner was the kitchen.
The arrangement of a vessel was not more precise and concise than that
of the interior of the Green Box. Everything within it was in its
place--arranged, foreseen, and intended.
The caravan was divided into three compartments, partitioned from each
other. These communicated by open spaces without doors. A piece of stuff
fell over them, and answered the purpose of concealment. The compartment
behind belonged to the men, the compartment in front to the women; the
compartment in the middle, separating the two sexes, was the stage. The
instruments of the orchestra and the properties were kept in the
kitchen. A loft under the arch of the roof contained the scenes, and on
opening a trap-door lamps appeared, producing wonders of light.
Ursus was the poet of these magical representations; he wrote the
pieces. He had a diversity of talents; he was clever at sleight of hand.
Besides the voices he imitated, he produced all sorts of unexpected
things--shocks of light and darkness; spontaneous formations of figures
or words, as he willed, on the partition; vanishing figures in
chiaroscuro; strange things, amidst which he seemed to meditate,
unmindful of the crowd who marvelled at him.
One day Gwynplaine said to him,--
"Father, you look like a sorcerer!"
And Ursus replied,--
"Then I look, perhaps, like what I am."
The Green Box, built on a clear model of Ursus's, contained this
refinement of ingenuity--that between the fore and hind wheels the
central panel of the left side turned on hinges by the aid of chains and
pulleys, and could be let down at will like a drawbridge. As it dropped
it set at liberty three legs on hinges, which supported the panel when
let down, and which placed themselves straight on the ground like the
legs of a table, and supported it above the earth like a platform. This
exposed the stage, which was thus enlarged by the platform in front.
This opening looked for all the world like a "mouth of hell," in the
words of the itinerant Puritan preachers, who turned away from it with
horror. It was, perhaps, for some such pious invention that Solon kicked
For all that Thespis has lasted much longer than is generally believed.
The travelling theatre is still in existence. It was on those stages on
wheels that, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they performed
in England the ballets and dances of Amner and Pilkington; in France,
the pastorals of Gilbert Colin; in Flanders, at the annual fairs, the
double choruses of Clement, called Non Papa; in Germany, the "Adam and
Eve" of Theiles; and, in Italy, the Venetian exhibitions of Animuccia
and of Cafossis, the "Silvae" of Gesualdo, the "Prince of Venosa," the
"Satyr" of Laura Guidiccioni, the "Despair of Philene," the "Death of
Ugolina," by Vincent Galileo, father of the astronomer, which Vincent
Galileo sang his own music, and accompanied himself on his _viol de
gamba_; as well as all the first attempts of the Italian opera which,
from 1580, substituted free inspiration for the madrigal style.
The chariot, of the colour of hope, which carried Ursus, Gwynplaine, and
their fortunes, and in front of which Fibi and Vinos trumpeted like
figures of Fame, played its part of this grand Bohemian and literary
brotherhood. Thespis would no more have disowned Ursus than Congrio
would have disowned Gwynplaine.
Arrived at open spaces in towns or villages, Ursus, in the intervals
between the too-tooing of Fibi and Vinos, gave instructive revelations
as to the trumpetings.
"This symphony is Gregorian," he would exclaim. "Citizens and townsmen,
the Gregorian form of worship, this great progress, is opposed in Italy
to the Ambrosial ritual, and in Spain to the Mozarabic ceremonial, and
has achieved its triumph over them with difficulty."
After which the Green Box drew up in some place chosen by Ursus, and
evening having fallen, and the panel stage having been let down, the
theatre opened, and the performance began.
The scene of the Green Box represented a landscape painted by Ursus; and
as he did not know how to paint, it represented a cavern just as well as
a landscape. The curtain, which we call drop nowadays, was a checked
silk, with squares of contrasted colours.
The public stood without, in the street, in the fair, forming a
semicircle round the stage, exposed to the sun and the showers; an
arrangement which made rain less desirable for theatres in those days
than now. When they could, they acted in an inn yard, on which occasions
the windows of the different stories made rows of boxes for the
spectators. The theatre was thus more enclosed, and the audience a more
paying one. Ursus was in everything--in the piece, in the company, in
the kitchen, in the orchestra. Vinos beat the drum, and handled the
sticks with great dexterity. Fibi played on the _morache_, a kind of
guitar. The wolf had been promoted to be a utility gentleman, and
played, as occasion required, his little parts. Often when they appeared
side by side on the stage--Ursus in his tightly-laced bear's skin, Homo
with his wolf's skin fitting still better--no one could tell which was
the beast. This flattered Ursus.
ABSURDITIES WHICH FOLKS WITHOUT TASTE CALL POETRY.
The pieces written by Ursus were interludes--a kind of composition out
of fashion nowadays. One of these pieces, which has not come down to us,
was entitled "Ursus Rursus." It is probable that he played the principal
part himself. A pretended exit, followed by a reappearance, was
apparently its praiseworthy and sober subject. The titles of the
interludes of Ursus were sometimes Latin, as we have seen, and the
poetry frequently Spanish. The Spanish verses written by Ursus were
rhymed, as was nearly all the Castilian poetry of that period. This did
not puzzle the people. Spanish was then a familiar language; and the
English sailors spoke Castilian even as the Roman sailors spoke
Carthaginian (see Plautus). Moreover, at a theatrical representation, as
at mass, Latin, or any other language unknown to the audience, is by no
means a subject of care with them. They get out of the dilemma by
adapting to the sounds familiar words. Our old Gallic France was
particularly prone to this manner of being devout. At church, under
cover of an _Immolatus_, the faithful chanted, "I will make merry;" and
under a _Sanctus_, "Kiss me, sweet."
The Council of Trent was required to put an end to these familiarities.
Ursus had composed expressly for Gwynplaine an interlude, with which he
was well pleased. It was his best work. He had thrown his whole soul
into it. To give the sum of all one's talents in the production is the
greatest triumph that any one can achieve. The toad which produces a
toad achieves a grand success. You doubt it? Try, then, to do as much.
Ursus had carefully polished this interlude. This bear's cub was
entitled "Chaos Vanquished." Here it was:--A night scene. When the
curtain drew up, the crowd, massed around the Green Box, saw nothing but
blackness. In this blackness three confused forms moved in the reptile
state--wolf, a bear, and a man. The wolf acted the wolf; Ursus, the
bear; Gwynplaine, the man. The wolf and the bear represented the
ferocious forces of Nature--unreasoning hunger and savage ignorance.
Both rushed on Gwynplaine. It was chaos combating man. No face could be
distinguished. Gwynplaine fought infolded, in a winding-sheet, and his
face was covered by his thickly-falling locks. All else was shadow. The
bear growled, the wolf gnashed his teeth, the man cried out. The man was
down; the beasts overwhelmed him. He cried for aid and succour; he
hurled to the unknown an agonized appeal. He gave a death-rattle. To
witness this agony of the prostrate man, now scarcely distinguishable
from the brutes, was appalling. The crowd looked on breathless; in one
minute more the wild beasts would triumph, and chaos reabsorb man. A
struggle--cries--howlings; then, all at once, silence.
A song in the shadows. A breath had passed, and they heard a voice.
Mysterious music floated, accompanying this chant of the invisible; and
suddenly, none knowing whence or how, a white apparition arose. This
apparition was a light; this light was a woman; this woman was a spirit.
Dea--calm, fair, beautiful, formidable in her serenity and
sweetness--appeared in the centre of a luminous mist. A profile of
brightness in a dawn! She was a voice--a voice light, deep,
indescribable. She sang in the new-born light--she, invisible, made
visible. They thought that they heard the hymn of an angel or the song
of a bird. At this apparition the man, starting up in his ecstasy,
struck the beasts with his fists, and overthrew them.
Then the vision, gliding along in a manner difficult to understand, and
therefore the more admired, sang these words in Spanish sufficiently
pure for the English sailors who were present:--
De luz el son."
Then looking down, as if she saw a gulf beneath, she went on,--
"Noche, quita te de alli!
El alba canta hallali."
As she sang, the man raised himself by degrees; instead of lying he was
now kneeling, his hands elevated towards the vision, his knees resting
on the beasts, which lay motionless, and as if thunder-stricken.
She continued, turning towards him,--
"Es menester a cielos ir,
Y tu que llorabas reir."
And approaching him with the majesty of a star, she added,--
A tu negro
And she put hot hand on his brow. Then another voice arose, deeper, and
consequently still sweeter--a voice broken and enwrapt with a gravity
both tender and wild. It was the human chant responding to the chant of
the stars. Gwynplaine, still in obscurity, his head under Dea's hand, and
kneeling on the vanquished bear and wolf, sang,--
"O ven! ama!
And suddenly from the shadow a ray of light fell full upon Gwynplaine.
Then, through the darkness, was the monster full exposed.
To describe the commotion of the crowd is impossible.
A sun of laughter rising, such was the effect. Laughter springs from
unexpected causes, and nothing could be more unexpected than this
termination. Never was sensation comparable to that produced by the ray
of light striking on that mask, at once ludicrous and terrible. They
laughed all around his laugh. Everywhere--above, below, behind, before,
at the uttermost distance; men, women, old gray-heads, rosy-faced
children; the good, the wicked, the gay, the sad, everybody. And even in
the streets, the passers-by who could see nothing, hearing the laughter,
laughed also. The laughter ended in clapping of hands and stamping of
feet. The curtain dropped: Gwynplaine was recalled with frenzy. Hence an
immense success. Have you seen "Chaos Vanquished?" Gwynplaine was run
after. The listless came to laugh, the melancholy came to laugh, evil
consciences came to laugh--a laugh so irresistible that it seemed almost
an epidemic. But there is a pestilence from which men do not fly, and
that is the contagion of joy. The success, it must be admitted, did not
rise higher than the populace. A great crowd means a crowd of nobodies.
"Chaos Vanquished" could be seen for a penny. Fashionable people never
go where the price of admission is a penny.
Ursus thought a good deal of his work, which he had brooded over for a
long time. "It is in the style of one Shakespeare," he said modestly.
The juxtaposition of Dea added to the indescribable effect produced by
Gwynplaine. Her white face by the side of the gnome represented what
might have been called divine astonishment. The audience regarded Dea
with a sort of mysterious anxiety. She had in her aspect the dignity of
a virgin and of a priestess, not knowing man and knowing God. They saw
that she was blind, and felt that she could see. She seemed to stand on
the threshold of the supernatural. The light that beamed on her seemed
half earthly and half heavenly. She had come to work on earth, and to
work as heaven works, in the radiance of morning. Finding a hydra, she
formed a soul. She seemed like a creative power, satisfied but
astonished at the result of her creation; and the audience fancied that
they could see in the divine surprise of that face desire of the cause
and wonder at the result. They felt that she loved this monster. Did she
know that he was one? Yes; since she touched him. No; since she
accepted him. This depth of night and this glory of day united, formed
in the mind of the spectator a chiaroscuro in which appeared endless
perspectives. How much divinity exists in the germ, in what manner the
penetration of the soul into matter is accomplished, how the solar ray
is an umbilical cord, how the disfigured is transfigured, how the
deformed becomes heavenly--all these glimpses of mysteries added an
almost cosmical emotion to the convulsive hilarity produced by
Gwynplaine. Without going too deep--for spectators do not like the
fatigue of seeking below the surface--something more was understood than
was perceived. And this strange spectacle had the transparency of an
As to Dea, what she felt cannot be expressed by human words. She knew
that she was in the midst of a crowd, and knew not what a crowd was. She
heard a murmur, that was all. For her the crowd was but a breath.
Generations are passing breaths. Man respires, aspires, and expires. In
that crowd Dea felt herself alone, and shuddering as one hanging over a
precipice. Suddenly, in this trouble of innocence in distress, prompt to
accuse the unknown, in her dread of a possible fall, Dea, serene
notwithstanding, and superior to the vague agonies of peril, but
inwardly shuddering at her isolation, found confidence and support. She
had seized her thread of safety in the universe of shadows; she put her
hand on the powerful head of Gwynplaine.
Joy unspeakable! she placed her rosy fingers on his forest of crisp
hair. Wool when touched gives an impression of softness. Dea touched a
lamb which she knew to be a lion. Her whole heart poured out an
ineffable love. She felt out of danger--she had found her saviour. The
public believed that they saw the contrary. To the spectators the being
loved was Gwynplaine, and the saviour was Dea. What matters? thought
Ursus, to whom the heart of Dea was visible. And Dea, reassured,
consoled and delighted, adored the angel whilst the people contemplated
the monster, and endured, fascinated herself as well, though in the
opposite sense, that dread Promethean laugh.
True love is never weary. Being all soul it cannot cool. A brazier comes
to be full of cinders; not so a star. Her exquisite impressions were
renewed every evening for Dea, and she was ready to weep with tenderness
whilst the audience was in convulsions of laughter. Those around her
were but joyful; she was happy.
The sensation of gaiety due to the sudden shock caused by the rictus of
Gwynplaine was evidently not intended by Ursus. He would have preferred
more smiles and less laughter, and more of a literary triumph. But
success consoles. He reconciled himself every evening to his excessive
triumph, as he counted how many shillings the piles of farthings made,
and how many pounds the piles of shillings; and besides, he said, after
all, when the laugh had passed, "Chaos Vanquished" would be found in the
depths of their minds, and something of it would remain there.
Perhaps he was not altogether wrong: the foundations of a work settle
down in the mind of the public. The truth is, that the populace,
attentive to the wolf, the bear, to the man, then to the music, to the
howlings governed by harmony, to the night dissipated by dawn, to the
chant releasing the light, accepted with a confused, dull sympathy, and
with a certain emotional respect, the dramatic poem of "Chaos
Vanquished," the victory of spirit over matter, ending with the joy of
Such were the vulgar pleasures of the people.
They sufficed them. The people had not the means of going to the noble
matches of the gentry, and could not, like lords and gentlemen, bet a
thousand guineas on Helmsgail against Phelem-ghe-madone.
AN OUTSIDER'S VIEW OF MEN AND THINGS.
Man has a notion of revenging himself on that which pleases him. Hence
the contempt felt for the comedian.
This being charms me, diverts, distracts, teaches, enchants, consoles
me; flings me into an ideal world, is agreeable and useful to me. What
evil can I do him in return? Humiliate him. Disdain is a blow from afar.
Let us strike the blow. He pleases me, therefore he is vile. He serves
me, therefore I hate him. Where can I find a stone to throw at him?
Priest, give me yours. Philosopher, give me yours. Bossuet,
excommunicate him. Rousseau, insult him. Orator, spit the pebbles from
your mouth at him. Bear, fling your stone. Let us cast stones at the
tree, hit the fruit and eat it. "Bravo!" and "Down with him!" To repeat
poetry is to be infected with the plague. Wretched playactor, we will
put him in the pillory for his success. Let him follow up his triumph
with our hisses. Let him collect a crowd and create a solitude. Thus it
is that the wealthy, termed the higher classes, have invented for the
actor that form of isolation, applause.
The crowd is less brutal. They neither hated nor despised Gwynplaine.
Only the meanest calker of the meanest crew of the meanest merchantman,
anchored in the meanest English seaport, considered himself immeasurably
superior to this amuser of the "scum," and believed that a calker is as
superior to an actor as a lord is to a calker.
Gwynplaine was, therefore, like all comedians, applauded and kept at a
distance. Truly, all success in this world is a crime, and must be
expiated. He who obtains the medal has to take its reverse side as well.
For Gwynplaine there was no reverse. In this sense, both sides of his
medal pleased him. He was satisfied with the applause, and content with
the isolation. In applause he was rich, in isolation happy.
To be rich in his low estate means to be no longer wretchedly poor--to
have neither holes in his clothes, nor cold at his hearth, nor emptiness
in his stomach. It is to eat when hungry and drink when thirsty. It is
to have everything necessary, including a penny for a beggar. This
indigent wealth, enough for liberty, was possessed by Gwynplaine. So far
as his soul was concerned, he was opulent. He had love. What more could
he want? Nothing.
You may think that had the offer been made to him to remove his
deformity he would have grasped at it. Yet he would have refused it
emphatically. What! to throw off his mask and have his former face
restored; to be the creature he had perchance been created, handsome and
charming? No, he would never have consented to it. For what would he
have to support Dea? What would have become of that poor child, the
sweet blind girl who loved him? Without his rictus, which made him a
clown without parallel, he would have been a mountebank, like any other;
a common athlete, a picker up of pence from the chinks in the pavement,
and Dea would perhaps not have had bread every day. It was with deep and
tender pride that he felt himself the protector of the helpless and
heavenly creature. Night, solitude, nakedness, weakness, ignorance,
hunger, and thirst--seven yawning jaws of misery--were raised around
her, and he was the St. George fighting the dragon. He triumphed over
poverty. How? By his deformity. By his deformity he was useful, helpful,
victorious, great. He had but to show himself, and money poured in. He
was a master of crowds, the sovereign of the mob. He could do everything
for Dea. Her wants he foresaw; her desires, her tastes, her fancies, in
the limited sphere in which wishes are possible to the blind, he
fulfilled. Gwynplaine and Dea were, as we have already shown, Providence
to each other. He felt himself raised on her wings; she felt herself
carried in his arms. To protect the being who loves you, to give what
she requires to her who shines on you as your star, can anything be
sweeter? Gwynplaine possessed this supreme happiness, and he owed it to
his deformity. His deformity had raised him above all. By it he had
gained the means of life for himself and others; by it he had gained
independence, liberty, celebrity, internal satisfaction and pride. In
his deformity he was inaccessible. The Fates could do nothing beyond
this blow in which they had spent their whole force, and which he had
turned into a triumph. This lowest depth of misfortune had become the
summit of Elysium. Gwynplaine was imprisoned in his deformity, but with
Dea. And this was, as we have already said, to live in a dungeon of
paradise. A wall stood between them and the living world. So much the
better. This wall protected as well as enclosed them. What could affect
Dea, what could affect Gwynplaine, with such a fortress around them? To
take from him his success was impossible. They would have had to deprive
him of his face. Take from him his love. Impossible. Dea could not see
him. The blindness of Dea was divinely incurable. What harm did his
deformity do Gwynplaine? None. What advantage did it give him? Every
advantage. He was beloved, notwithstanding its horror, and perhaps for
that very cause. Infirmity and deformity had by instinct been drawn
towards and coupled with each other. To be beloved, is not that
everything? Gwynplaine thought of his disfigurement only with gratitude.
He was blessed in the stigma. With joy he felt that it was irremediable
and eternal. What a blessing that it was so! While there were highways
and fairgrounds, and journeys to take, the people below and the sky
above, they would be sure to live, Dea would want nothing, and they
should have love. Gwynplaine would not have changed faces with Apollo.
To be a monster was his form of happiness.
Thus, as we said before, destiny had given him all, even to overflowing.
He who had been rejected had been preferred.
He was so happy that he felt compassion for the men around him. He
pitied the rest of the world. It was, besides, his instinct to look
about him, because no one is always consistent, and a man's nature is
not always theoretic; he was delighted to live within an enclosure, but
from time to time he lifted his head above the wall. Then he retreated
again with more joy into his loneliness with Dea, having drawn his
comparisons. What did he see around him?
What were those living creatures of which his wandering life showed him
so many specimens, changed every day? Always new crowds, always the same
multitude, ever new faces, ever the same miseries. A jumble of ruins.
Every evening every phase of social misfortune came and encircled his
The Green Box was popular.
Low prices attract the low classes. Those who came were the weak, the
poor, the little. They rushed to Gwynplaine as they rushed to gin. They
came to buy a pennyworth of forgetfulness. From the height of his
platform Gwynplaine passed those wretched people in review. His spirit
was enwrapt in the contemplation of every succeeding apparition of
widespread misery. The physiognomy of man is modelled by conscience, and
by the tenor of life, and is the result of a crowd of mysterious
excavations. There was never a suffering, not an anger, not a shame, not
a despair, of which Gwynplaine did not see the wrinkle. The mouths of
those children had not eaten. That man was a father, that woman a
mother, and behind them their families might be guessed to be on the
road to ruin. There was a face already marked by vice, on the threshold
of crime, and the reasons were plain--ignorance and indigence. Another
showed the stamp of original goodness, obliterated by social pressure,
and turned to hate. On the face of an old woman he saw starvation; on
that of a girl, prostitution. The same fact, and although the girl had
the resource of her youth, all the sadder for that! In the crowd were
arms without tools; the workers asked only for work, but the work was
wanting. Sometimes a soldier came and seated himself by the workmen,
sometimes a wounded pensioner; and Gwynplaine saw the spectre of war.
Here Gwynplaine read want of work; there man-farming, slavery. On
certain brows he saw an indescribable ebbing back towards animalism, and
that slow return of man to beast, produced on those below by the dull
pressure of the happiness of those above. There was a break in the gloom
for Gwynplaine. He and Dea had a loophole of happiness; the rest was
damnation. Gwynplaine felt above him the thoughtless trampling of the
powerful, the rich, the magnificent, the great, the elect of chance.
Below he saw the pale faces of the disinherited. He saw himself and Dea,
with their little happiness, so great to themselves, between two worlds.
That which was above went and came, free, joyous, dancing, trampling
under foot; above him the world which treads, below the world which is
trodden upon. It is a fatal fact, and one indicating a profound social
evil, that light should crush the shadow! Gwynplaine thoroughly grasped
this dark evil. What! a destiny so reptile? Shall a man drag himself
thus along with such adherence to dust and corruption, with such vicious
tastes, such an abdication of right, or such abjectness that one feels
inclined to crush him under foot? Of what butterfly is, then, this
earthly life the grub?
What! in the crowd which hungers and which denies everywhere, and before
all, the questions of crime and shame (the inflexibility of the law
producing laxity of conscience), is there no child that grows but to be
stunted, no virgin but matures for sin, no rose that blooms but for the
slime of the snail?
His eyes at times sought everywhere, with the curiosity of emotion, to
probe the depths of that darkness, in which there died away so many
useless efforts, and in which there struggled so much weariness:
families devoured by society, morals tortured by the laws, wounds
gangrened by penalties, poverty gnawed by taxes, wrecked intelligence
swallowed up by ignorance, rafts in distress alive with the famished,
feuds, dearth, death-rattles, cries, disappearances. He felt the vague
oppression of a keen, universal suffering. He saw the vision of the
foaming wave of misery dashing over the crowd of humanity. He was safe
in port himself, as he watched the wreck around him. Sometimes he laid
his disfigured head in his hands and dreamed.
What folly to be happy! How one dreams! Ideas were born within him.
Absurd notions crossed his brain.
Because formerly he had succoured an infant, he felt a ridiculous desire
to succour the whole world. The mists of reverie sometimes obscured his
individuality, and he lost his ideas of proportion so far as to ask
himself the question, "What can be done for the poor?" Sometimes he was
so absorbed in his subject as to express it aloud. Then Ursus shrugged
his shoulders and looked at him fixedly. Gwynplaine continued his
"Oh; were I powerful, would I not aid the wretched? But what am I? An
atom. What can I do? Nothing."
He was mistaken. He was able to do a great deal for the wretched. He
could make them laugh; and, as we have said, to make people laugh is to
make them forget. What a benefactor on earth is he who can bestow
GWYNPLAINE THINKS JUSTICE, AND URSUS TALKS TRUTH.
A philosopher is a spy. Ursus, a watcher of dreams, studied his pupil.
Our monologues leave on our brows a faint reflection, distinguishable to
the eye of a physiognomist. Hence what occurred to Gwynplaine did not
escape Ursus. One day, as Gwynplaine was meditating, Ursus pulled him by
his jacket, and exclaimed,--
"You strike me as being an observer! You fool! Take care; it is no
business of yours. You have one thing to do--to love Dea. You have two
causes of happiness--the first is, that the crowd sees your muzzle; the
second is, that Dea does not. You have no right to the happiness you
possess, for no woman who saw your mouth would consent to your kiss; and
that mouth which has made your fortune, and that face which has given
you riches, are not your own. You were not born with that countenance.
It was borrowed from the grimace which is at the bottom of the infinite.
You have stolen your mask from the devil. You are hideous; be satisfied
with having drawn that prize in the lottery. There are in this world
(and a very good thing too) the happy by right and the happy by luck.
You are happy by luck. You are in a cave wherein a star is enclosed. The
poor star belongs to you. Do not seek to leave the cave, and guard your
star, O spider! You have in your web the carbuncle, Venus. Do me the
favour to be satisfied. I see your dreams are troubled. It is idiotic of
you. Listen; I am going to speak to you in the language of true poetry.
Let Dea eat beefsteaks and mutton chops, and in six months she will be
as strong as a Turk; marry her immediately, give her a child, two
children, three children, a long string of children. That is what I call
philosophy. Moreover, it is happiness, which is no folly. To have
children is a glimpse of heaven. Have brats--wipe them, blow their
noses, dirt them, wash them, and put them to bed. Let them swarm about
you. If they laugh, it is well; if they howl, it is better--to cry is to
live. Watch them suck at six months, crawl at a year, walk at two, grow
tall at fifteen, fall in love at twenty. He who has these joys has
everything For myself, I lacked the advantage; and that is the reason
why I am a brute. God, a composer of beautiful poems and the first of
men of letters, said to his fellow-workman, Moses, 'Increase and
multiply.' Such is the text. Multiply, you beast! As to the world, it is
as it is; you cannot make nor mar it. Do not trouble yourself about it.
Pay no attention to what goes on outside. Leave the horizon alone. A
comedian is made to be looked at, not to look. Do you know what there is
outside? The happy by right. You, I repeat, are the happy by chance. You
are the pickpocket of the happiness of which they are the proprietors.
They are the legitimate possessors; you are the intruder. You live in
concubinage with luck. What do you want that you have not already?
Shibboleth help me! This fellow is a rascal. To multiply himself by Dea
would be pleasant, all the same. Such happiness is like a swindle. Those
above who possess happiness by privilege do not like folks below them to
have so much enjoyment. If they ask you what right you have to be happy,
you will not know what to answer. You have no patent, and they have.
Jupiter, Allah, Vishnu, Sabaoth, it does not matter who, has given them
the passport to happiness. Fear them. Do not meddle with them, lest they
should meddle with you. Wretch! do you know what the man is who is happy
by right? He is a terrible being. He is a lord. A lord! He must have
intrigued pretty well in the devil's unknown country before he was
born, to enter life by the door he did. How difficult it must have been
to him to be born! It is the only trouble he has given himself; but,
just heavens, what a one!--to obtain from destiny, the blind blockhead,
to mark him in his cradle a master of men. To bribe the box-keeper to
give him the best place at the show. Read the memoranda in the old hut,
which I have placed on half-pay. Read that breviary of my wisdom, and
you will see what it is to be a lord. A lord is one who has all and is
all. A lord is one who exists above his own nature. A lord is one who
has when young the rights of an old man; when old, the success in
intrigue of a young one; if vicious, the homage of respectable people;
if a coward, the command of brave men; if a do-nothing, the fruits of
labour; if ignorant, the diploma of Cambridge or Oxford; if a fool, the
admiration of poets; if ugly, the smiles of women; if a Thersites, the
helm of Achilles; if a hare, the skin of a lion. Do not misunderstand my
words. I do not say that a lord must necessarily be ignorant, a coward,
ugly, stupid, or old. I only mean that he may be all those things
without any detriment to himself. On the contrary. Lords are princes.
The King of England is only a lord, the first peer of the peerage; that
is all, but it is much. Kings were formerly called lords--the Lord of
Denmark, the Lord of Ireland, the Lord of the Isles. The Lord of Norway
was first called king three hundred years ago. Lucius, the most ancient
king in England, was spoken to by Saint Telesphonis as my Lord Lucius.
The lords are peers--that is to say, equals--of whom? Of the king. I do
not commit the mistake of confounding the lords with parliament. The
assembly of the people which the Saxons before the Conquest called
_wittenagemote_, the Normans, after the Conquest, entitled
_parliamentum_. By degrees the people were turned out. The king's
letters clause convoking the Commons, addressed formerly _ad concilium
impendendum_, are now addressed _ad consentiendum_. To say yes is their
liberty. The peers can say no; and the proof is that they have said it.
The peers can cut off the king's head. The people cannot. The stroke of
the hatchet which decapitated Charles I. is an encroachment, not on the
king, but on the peers, and it was well to place on the gibbet the
carcass of Cromwell. The lords have power. Why? Because they have
riches. Who has turned over the leaves of the Doomsday Book? It is the
proof that the lords possess England. It is the registry of the estates
of subjects, compiled under William the Conqueror; and it is in the
charge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To copy anything in it you
have to pay twopence a line. It is a proud book. Do you know that I was
domestic doctor to a lord, who was called Marmaduke, and who had
thirty-six thousand a year? Think of that, you hideous idiot! Do you
know that, with rabbits only from the warrens of Earl Lindsay, they
could feed all the riffraff of the Cinque Ports? And the good order
kept! Every poacher is hung. For two long furry ears sticking out of a
game bag I saw the father of six children hanging on the gibbet. Such is
the peerage. The rabbit of a great lord is of more importance than God's
image in a man.
"Lords exist, you trespasser, do you see? and we must think it good that
they do; and even if we do not, what harm will it do them? The people
object, indeed! Why? Plautus himself would never have attained the
comicality of such an idea. A philosopher would be jesting if he advised
the poor devil of the masses to cry out against the size and weight of
the lords. Just as well might the gnat dispute with the foot of an
elephant. One day I saw a hippopotamus tread upon a molehill; he crushed
it utterly. He was innocent. The great soft-headed fool of a mastodon
did not even know of the existence of moles. My son, the moles that are
trodden on are the human race. To crush is a law. And do you think that
the mole himself crushes nothing? Why, it is the mastodon of the
fleshworm, who is the mastodon of the globeworm. But let us cease
arguing. My boy, there are coaches in the world; my lord is inside, the
people under the wheels; the philosopher gets out of the way. Stand
aside, and let them pass. As to myself, I love lords, and shun them. I
lived with one; the beauty of my recollections suffices me. I remember
his country house, like a glory in a cloud. My dreams are all
retrospective. Nothing could be more admirable than Marmaduke Lodge in
grandeur, beautiful symmetry, rich avenues, and the ornaments and
surroundings of the edifice. The houses, country seats, and palaces of
the lords present a selection of all that is greatest and most
magnificent in this flourishing kingdom. I love our lords. I thank them
for being opulent, powerful, and prosperous. I myself am clothed in
shadow, and I look with interest upon the shred of heavenly blue which
is called a lord. You enter Marmaduke Lodge by an exceedingly spacious
courtyard, which forms an oblong square, divided into eight spaces, each
surrounded by a balustrade; on each side is a wide approach, and a
superb hexagonal fountain plays in the midst; this fountain is formed of
two basins, which are surmounted by a dome of exquisite openwork,
elevated on six columns. It was there that I knew a learned Frenchman,
Monsieur l'Abbe du Cros, who belonged to the Jacobin monastery in the
Rue Saint Jacques. Half the library of Erpenius is at Marmaduke Lodge,
the other half being at the theological gallery at Cambridge. I used to
read the books, seated under the ornamented portal. These things are
only shown to a select number of curious travellers. Do you know, you
ridiculous boy, that William North, who is Lord Grey of Rolleston, and
sits fourteenth on the bench of Barons, has more forest trees on his
mountains than you have hairs on your horrible noddle? Do you know that
Lord Norreys of Rycote, who is Earl of Abingdon, has a square keep a
hundred feet high, having this device--_Virtus ariete fortior_; which
you would think meant that virtue is stronger than a ram, but which
really means, you idiot, that courage is stronger than a
battering-machine. Yes, I honour, accept, respect, and revere our lords.
It is the lords who, with her royal Majesty, work to procure and
preserve the advantages of the nation. Their consummate wisdom shines in
intricate junctures. Their precedence over others I wish they had not;
but they have it. What is called principality in Germany, grandeeship in
Spain, is called peerage in England and France. There being a fair show
of reason for considering the world a wretched place enough, heaven felt
where the burden was most galling, and to prove that it knew how to make
happy people, created lords for the satisfaction of philosophers. This
acts as a set-off, and gets heaven out of the scrape, affording it a
decent escape from a false position. The great are great. A peer,
speaking of himself, says _we_. A peer is a plural. The king qualifies
the peer _consanguinei nostri_. The peers have made a multitude of wise
laws; amongst others, one which condemns to death any one who cuts down
a three-year-old poplar tree. Their supremacy is such that they have a
language of their own. In heraldic style, black, which is called sable
for gentry, is called saturne for princes, and diamond for peers.
Diamond dust, a night thick with stars, such is the night of the happy!
Even amongst themselves these high and mighty lords have their own
distinctions. A baron cannot wash with a viscount without his
permission. These are indeed excellent things, and safeguards to the
nation. What a fine thing it is for the people to have twenty-five
dukes, five marquises, seventy-six earls, nine viscounts, and sixty-one
barons, making altogether a hundred and seventy-six peers, of which some
are your grace, and some my lord! What matter a few rags here and there,
withal: everybody cannot be dressed in gold. Let the rags be. Cannot you
see the purple? One balances the other. A thing must be built of
something. Yes, of course, there are the poor--what of them! They line
the happiness of the wealthy. Devil take it! our lords are our glory!
The pack of hounds belonging to Charles, Baron Mohun, costs him as much
as the hospital for lepers in Moorgate, and for Christ's Hospital,
founded for children, in 1553, by Edward VI. Thomas Osborne, Duke of
Leeds, spends yearly on his liveries five thousand golden guineas. The
Spanish grandees have a guardian appointed by law to prevent their
ruining themselves. That is cowardly. Our lords are extravagant and
magnificent. I esteem them for it. Let us not abuse them like envious
folks. I feel happy when a beautiful vision passes. I have not the
light, but I have the reflection. A reflection thrown on my ulcer, you
will say. Go to the devil! I am a Job, delighted in the contemplation of
Trimalcion. Oh, that beautiful and radiant planet up there! But the
moonlight is something. To suppress the lords was an idea which Orestes,
mad as he was, would not have dared to entertain. To say that the lords
are mischievous or useless is as much as to say that the state should be
revolutionized, and that men are not made to live like cattle, browsing
the grass and bitten by the dog. The field is shorn by the sheep, the
sheep by the shepherd. It is all one to me. I am a philosopher, and I
care about life as much as a fly. Life is but a lodging. When I think
that Henry Bowes Howard, Earl of Berkshire, has in his stable
twenty-four state carriages, of which one is mounted in silver and
another in gold--good heavens! I know that every one has not got
twenty-four state carriages; but there is no need to complain for all
that. Because you were cold one night, what was that to him? It concerns
you only. Others besides you suffer cold and hunger. Don't you know
that without that cold, Dea would not have been blind, and if Dea were
not blind she would not love you? Think of that, you fool! And, besides,
if all the people who are lost were to complain, there would be a pretty
tumult! Silence is the rule. I have no doubt that heaven imposes silence
on the damned, otherwise heaven itself would be punished by their
everlasting cry. The happiness of Olympus is bought by the silence of
Cocytus. Then, people, be silent! I do better myself; I approve and
admire. Just now I was enumerating the lords, and I ought to add to the
list two archbishops and twenty-four bishops. Truly, I am quite affected
when I think of it! I remember to have seen at the tithe-gathering of
the Rev. Dean of Raphoe, who combined the peerage with the church, a
great tithe of beautiful wheat taken from the peasants in the
neighbourhood, and which the dean had not been at the trouble of
growing. This left him time to say his prayers. Do you know that Lord
Marmaduke, my master, was Lord Grand Treasurer of Ireland, and High
Seneschal of the sovereignty of Knaresborough in the county of York? Do
you know that the Lord High Chamberlain, which is an office hereditary
in the family of the Dukes of Ancaster, dresses the king for his
coronation, and receives for his trouble forty yards of crimson velvet,
besides the bed on which the king has slept; and that the Usher of the
Black Rod is his deputy? I should like to see you deny this, that the
senior viscount of England is Robert Brent, created a viscount by Henry
V. The lords' titles imply sovereignty over land, except that of Earl
Rivers, who takes his title from his family name. How admirable is the
right which they have to tax others, and to levy, for instance, four
shillings in the pound sterling income-tax, which has just been
continued for another year! And all the time taxes on distilled spirits,
on the excise of wine and beer, on tonnage and poundage, on cider, on
perry, on mum, malt, and prepared barley, on coals, and on a hundred
things besides. Let us venerate things as they are. The clergy
themselves depend on the lords. The Bishop of Man is subject to the Earl
of Derby. The lords have wild beasts of their own, which they place in
their armorial bearings. God not having made enough, they have invented
others. They have created the heraldic wild boar, who is as much above
the wild boar as the wild boar is above the domestic pig and the lord
is above the priest. They have created the griffin, which is an eagle to
lions, and a lion to eagles, terrifying lions by his wings, and eagles
by his mane. They have the guivre, the unicorn, the serpent, the
salamander, the tarask, the dree, the dragon, and the hippogriff. All
these things, terrible to us, are to them but an ornament and an
embellishment. They have a menagerie which they call the blazon, in
which unknown beasts roar. The prodigies of the forest are nothing
compared to the inventions of their pride. Their vanity is full of
phantoms which move as in a sublime night, armed with helm and cuirass,
spurs on their heels and the sceptres in their hands, saying in a grave
voice, 'We are the ancestors!' The canker-worms eat the roots, and
panoplies eat the people. Why not? Are we to change the laws? The
peerage is part of the order of society. Do you know that there is a
duke in Scotland who can ride ninety miles without leaving his own
estate? Do you know that the Archbishop of Canterbury has a revenue of
L40,000 a year? Do you know that her Majesty has L700,000 sterling from
the civil list, besides castles, forests, domains, fiefs, tenancies,
freeholds, prebendaries, tithes, rent, confiscations, and fines, which
bring in over a million sterling? Those who are not satisfied are hard
"Yes," murmured Gwynplaine sadly, "the paradise of the rich is made out
of the hell of the poor."
URSUS THE POET DRAGS ON URSUS THE PHILOSOPHER.
Then Dea entered. He looked at her, and saw nothing but her. This is
love; one may be carried away for a moment by the importunity of some
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